What was CBS thinking?

Disclosure statements aren't a cure-all

At the risk of over-analyzing this one, let’s just say up front that CBS’ Rita Braver, whose husband—lawyer Robert B. Barnett, who represented Lynne Cheney in the publishing deal for her new memoir, Blue Skies, No Fencesshould not have interviewed Mrs. Cheney about her book on CBS’ “Sunday Morning” this past weekend.

It’s a no-brainer, even given the fact that CBS included a statement of disclosure before running the segment. Braver obviously stands to gain financially from the interview, since it publicizes a segment of her husband’s business. Disclosure statements aren’t meant to be some kind of universal get-out-of-jail-free card, they’re supposed to be used when a reporter who has some connection to the story—either real or perceived—is involved in producing the story, or when it is felt that the connection doesn’t rise to the level of true conflict. Disclosures like the one CBS ran before the segment cheapen the idea of disclosure statements, since Braver in no way had to report the story. Is CBS short of correspondents capable of asking a few questions?

As a side note, I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if some big-name blogger had done something like this. It would have been open season on the blogosphere, with lamentations over the amateurish, rule-free environment that blogs inhabit, with the mainstream media gleefully tisk-tisking over their misguided young cousins. CBS was wrong, and no disclosure statement can change that.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.